Warriors' Complete Guide, Preview for 2nd Half of 2021 NBA Season
Given the unique challenges of the 2020-21 NBA season, it's best to expect the unexpected.
For the Golden State Warriors, though, their performance mostly aligns with preseason expectations.
Stephen Curry is performing at an MVP level. Draymond Green is causing his usual chaos at the defensive end and juicing the passing game on offense. The amount of new faces wearing Warriors' colors has caused some steep learning curves within coach Steve Kerr's system.
The Warriors are good, not great. That is roughly where the ceiling sat as soon as Klay Thompson was lost to an Achilles tear.
What might that mean for the second half of the campaign? You would need a crystal ball to answer that definitively. But we can—and will—preview what's on deck for the rest of this season.
You know when Chef Curry is cooking defenders? Yeah, that's the obstacle no higher seed wants to deal with come playoff time.
If the Warriors can handle what March and April throw at them, they have a great opportunity to make that possibility a reality.
Getting there won't be easy. The Warriors open the second half on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers and then head home for a back-to-back against the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz. They later get four road trips spanning at least three games each and home games against the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets (twice) and Dallas Mavericks.
But if they avoid any slip-ups, they will have a chance to race to the finish line. Their season ends with a six-game homestand, which Warriors PR noted is "the longest season-ending homestand in franchise history." The stretch opens with two games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who might be tanking by then, and thereafter is a Jazz team that could have the West's No. 1 seed in its hands.
The Phoenix Suns will be a tough draw, but then the Warriors close with the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies, and the latter could be running on fumes because of all the games they need to make up in the second half.
State of the Squad
Golden State's ability to run a functional offense boils down to whether Curry is on the court. With him, the Dubs average 113.6 points per 100 possessions, which would rank ninth overall. Without him, that number nosedives to 99.8, which is nearly six points worse per 100 possessions than the Association's least efficient attack.
That speaks to two things. First is Curry's mastery, which you can't properly explain without using a few expletives. He's mind-numbingly good at scoring, and no one is better at leveraging the three-point threat to bend a defense exactly how he wants.
Second is the lack of consistent support. Green can pass, but he can't shoot—from anywhere. Andrew Wiggins is more decisive in this offense, but he's not a ball-mover. Kelly Oubre Jr. jostles between fiery hot and frigid like a water faucet. James Wiseman shows flashes, but he could go for 25 points or five—which he did on back-to-back nights in late January.
The combination of Curry's wizardry and the club's fourth-ranked defense is potent enough for Golden State to remain in the playoff race and perhaps climb above the play-in tournament cutoff. But without changes to this roster, the Thompson-less Warriors have a razor-thin margin for error.
Few teams will be more fascinating to watch between now and the March 25 trade deadline than the Warriors.
They have two massive trade chips in Wiseman and the top-three-protected pick owed to them by the 7-25 Minnesota Timberwolves. But unless the suddenly frisky Washington Wizards reverse course and put Bradley Beal on the trade block, there may not be an available star worth that kind of investment.
So do the Dubs focus on smaller deals in hopes of a marginal improvement? Do they find a player worth one of those trade chips and a filler in a mini-blockbuster? Do they sit out the trade period and focus on the buyout market, saving their major moves for when they have a healthy Thompson? Would they be wasting a year of Curry's prime if they did?
Only Golden State's decision-makers have those answers, but the rest of the basketball world can't wait to find out.